Like many ­health-minded consumers, Emile Chang Jr. bought a fitness tracker to get more active. But he was shocked to learn that the device—a Fitbit Charge—gave out long before he did. After three months of daily use, says the 25-year-old Long Island software analyst, the strap began to peel away from the device’s screen. And his father had the same problem with a Fitbit Charge he had received from Chang as a gift. “His started to peel after five months,” Chang says.

If you search online, you’ll find dozens of complaints about wristbands made by Apple, Jawbone, Misfit, and others discoloring, splitting, and even disintegrating in less than six months. In 2014 a wave of band-related rashes forced Fitbit to issue a recall on its Force trackers.

Is it crazy to think a manufacturer can design a comfortable, long-lasting strap? The materials experts we contacted would not venture a reply without more info on the bands in question, but David Parks, Ph.D., of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology told us that exposure to sweat, hand creams, and other household products can lead to chemical degradation in rubber.

A photo of one of the fitness tracker bands that have deteriorated.
The band on this Fitbit Surge, purchased in early 2015, exhibits the wear-and-tear issues that have prompted consumer complaints.

Sam Bowen, vice president of product engineering at Fitbit, says the company tests to make sure the bands stand up to daily use. That includes exposing the bands to oils, skin-care products, and cleaning agents.

To prolong a strap’s life, Jawbone advises users to "avoid excessive stretching and twisting." The care tips from Fitbit are more specific: They urge users to wash the band with water and a little rubbing alcohol after they've been sweating heavily. To remove buildup from sunscreens and insect repellents, try a soap-free cleanser such as Aquanil or Cetaphil. (Soaps can irritate skin when trapped beneath the device.)

If you ask us, that sounds like a lot of pampering for a workout tool.

For more info on fitness trackers, including the ease of use and step-count accuracy of specific models, check out our buying guide and Ratings of more than two dozen models from the leading brands. 

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the July 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.